Summer storms entered southwest Wisconsin, impacting American Transmission Co.’s system June 28. The storms set an event record for ATC with 65 downed structures. ATC, Alliant Energy and contractors worked as one team to rebuild and restore power. Chris Dailey, team leader, transmission line maintenance, played an integral role in restoring power. He explains what happened:
Shortly after 6 p.m. on June 28, three 69-kilovolt lines experienced outages requiring field investigation to determine the cause. ATC’s first responder for the area, Alliant Energy, was asked to investigate the source of the outages. In the meantime, ATC system operators took charge and were able to conduct prompt switching to restore all electric transmission service. ATC monitored pictures and posts on social media, which gave us a real-time sense of what was going on in the communities we serve. The pictures were eye-opening: dozens of poles snapped-off and laying across the road.
Soon, field reports of downed structures started coming in to ATC from Alliant Energy. All told, 65 toppled structures were on the ground among the three lines – Y-105 from Hillman to Eden, Wis., Y-106 from Rock Branch to Eden, Wis., and Y-87 from South Monroe to North Monroe, Wis. The local volunteer fire station recorded one wind gust at 81 miles per hour and another at 101 miles per hour in the area of Y-105 and Y-106. The National Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado passed through Y-87.
With roads closed and wires down, we wanted to get resources deployed promptly. Construction contractor Henkels & McCoy was called to assist in Alliant Energy’s initial safety efforts and began the cleanup process. As the night rolled on, we learned that Alliant Energy had a power outage affecting the Village of Livingston in Grant County, Wis. Alliant Energy’s distribution lines were on ATC structures, and both were out of service due to downed structures.
Due to the magnitude of the event and the concerns of our customers, ATC’s design engineering team was consulted and began the redesign process of the Highway 80 segment of line Y-105, where 21 poles were down. Through the night, this most critical stretch was designed and materials lists were generated so we could get materials arranged and to the site to begin the rebuild process in the morning.
The next morning, the rest of the design engineering team was deployed on the redesign of the other damaged areas. In addition, more Henkels & McCoy resources were deployed, and our other construction alliance contractor, MJ Electric, was called to assist with the reconstruction efforts. To help facilitate the significant field presence, construction management resources were brought in to the project in the early morning to oversee field operations.
All-in-all, it was a true team effort with asset maintenance, design engineering, construction management, Border States Electric, Henkels & McCoy and MJ Electric working together to restore power. In total, 65 new poles were installed, wires were restrung and power was restored to all three circuits withinin just 48 hours of learning of the damages. I’m proud of how we responded. The field resources did an outstanding job of safely working through long hours and hot weather to complete the effort. It’s ATC’s response to events like this that makes me proud of the company.
At American Transmission Co., we care about the community and are committed to helping great organizations like The Ice Age Trail Alliance provide opportunities for kids to learn. The Alliance’s Summer Saunters program is a great way for kids to learn about Wisconsin’s glacial, cultural and natural history while hiking and exploring along the trail. The program takes children on five unique hikes on the Trail within 1.5 hours of Milwaukee.
We visited the Summer Saunters group as they spent a day along the Trail in the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit.
Nesting platforms provide a safe place to perch, and ospreys in central Wisconsin have a new place to do just that. American Transmission Co. recently donated two osprey platforms to The Feather Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center in New London, Wis.
“We are happy to partner with The Feather Wildlife Rehabilitation Center because we care, and because we are committed to environmental leadership in all aspects of our business,” said Michelle Stokes, ATC environmental manager. “These platforms protect the ospreys and promote continued recovery of the species. They also enhance the reliability of the electric transmission system by offering the birds a safe place to nest.”
The platforms are part of ATC’s avian protection program. ATC supports sustainable environmental policies and actions. During facility siting and design, ATC identifies areas of heavy avian use and evaluates measures to mitigate potential avian impacts. ATC also installs flight diverters and perch guards to prevent birds from becoming injured by transmission lines or structures.
Across ATC’s service area, we have installed more than 100 osprey nesting platforms on or adjacent to transmission structures. The platforms support successful breeding of this once-declining species.
American Transmission Co. is celebrating birds, butterflies and bees this week – June 19-25 is National Pollinator Week!
Helping pollinators is part of ATC’s GrowSmart® program, which helps property owners and communities identify low-growing, beautiful, compatible vegetation that can be planted the smart way – a safe distance from transmission line rights-of-way.
ATC also works with its construction contractors to plant seed mixes in our transmission line rights-of-way that generate beautiful vegetation beneficial to many species of pollinators.
One such right-of-way is at the Mequon Nature Preserve, where ATC provided funding for seed mixes beneficial to pollinators. Check out our gallery below from the June 13 planting event.
ATC has developed enhanced seed mixes to use in our rights-of-way that include plants that flower throughout the growing season. Longer flowering periods allow pollinators to benefit from nectar sources over a longer time span. Pollinators play an important role in contributing to our food security and healthy ecosystems by helping plants flower and reproduce.
American Transmission Co. is helping keep the lights on through a revolutionary approach to utility pole foundation installation. New transmission structures are springing up throughout ATC’s service area thanks to a new invention that is faster, more economical and more environmentally friendly than other methods.
ATC has a patent pending with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for its new Solo-Driver™ method.
Before Solo-Driver, ATC and the rest of the transmission industry relied on two popular foundation installation methods for utility poles when a concrete base is not needed – direct bury and traditional vibratory installation.
The direct bury method involves drilling a hole and placing a pole in it before backfilling the hole. This method requires roughly two and a half hours to install one foundation.
Traditional vibratory installation is a newer technique. It uses a vibratory hammer to drive the pole into the earth. This method typically requires one hour for setup and roughly 15 minutes to install the foundation.
ATC first used the traditional vibratory method in high volume to rebuild a 69-kilovolt transmission line between the Monroe County Substation near Sparta, Wis., and the Council Creek Substation near Tomah, Wis., in 2014. Next, ATC used the method to rebuild a 138-kV transmission line between Waukesha, Wis., Concord, Wis., and St. Lawrence, Wis.
Todd Maersch, consultant transmission line engineer, and Mark Sanzenbacher, senior project manager, were both involved with the 138-kV transmission line rebuild project. While they appreciated the environmental and timesaving benefits that accompanied the traditional vibratory installation method, they wanted a method that was more efficient.
“We watched the guys struggle with setting up the equipment every time,” said Maersch.
With traditional vibratory installation, a crew must wrangle the foundation into position using taglines. Taglines are removable ropes that attach to a foundation while it is suspended above ground by a crane. Crews use the taglines to align the foundation as it is lowered to the ground. Then, the crew must situate the vibratory hammer, which runs off a power pack, over the foundation to drive it into the ground.
“Every time the crew moved to the next foundation, they had to disassemble and reassemble everything. It would take an hour of setup to do five to 20 minutes of work,” said Sanzenbacher. “So our conclusion was that there had to be a better way to set this up.”
The two started brainstorming. They hoped that if they could eliminate the crane, they could significantly reduce setup times. They also wanted to power the vibratory hammer with excavator hydraulics instead of relying on the large power pack. They found a few techniques used in other industries, but nothing that would work specifically for transmission poles.
“I started reaching out to various companies that I found on the internet asking whether they’ve done anything where they’ve tried to install a transmission pole,” said Maersch. “Most of the answers were that they had tried to grab the actual pole, but were never able to make it work.”
“That’s when we started thinking that we could design a tab that’s integral in our transmission pole,” said Sanzenbacher.
The two found a vibratory hammer manufacturer who worked with them to retrofit poles with side tabs. The vibratory hammer would be able to lock on to the tabs and maneuver the caisson.
The whole process works like this:
1) Attached to an excavator, a vibratory hammer grips tabs affixed to a caisson. 2) The hammer lifts, rotates and drives the foundation into the ground. 3)Then, the hammer grasps a tab on the top of the caisson to drive the foundation to the required depth.
With the initial design complete, Maersch and Sanzenbacher were ready to test their invention. They tried five installations in five different soil types. It worked.
Today, Solo-Driver is the new normal for 69-kV and 138-kV foundation installation at ATC.
Solo-Driver requires just two to three crew members compared to five for traditional vibratory installation and direct bury. The method is very safe for the crew on site since there are no taglines, and no manual maneuvering of the foundation is required. Safety interlock jaws on the excavator prevent the foundation from being dropped during installation, even if the hammer loses power.
Since Solo-Driver requires just one excavator for installation, the weight of the equipment is much lighter than the equipment required for traditional installation methods, which reduces environmental impacts. The new method also requires reduced overhead clearance compared to other methods. This allows foundations to be installed in closer proximity to existing overhead lines.
Taken together, the lighter equipment and reduced overhead clearance required means Solo-Driver can be used in locations where direct bury and traditional vibratory installation methods are not options. For example, while traditional vibratory installation and direct bury methods are not typically viable options in wetlands, Solo-Driver is. Additionally, Solo-Driver does not produce any spoils, whereas the direct bury method can result in five to 50 yards of spoils per pole.
Field studies have shown that in optimal conditions, Solo-Driver could cut costs by as much as half compared to traditional installation methods due to reduced labor costs, reduced equipment costs and reduced project risk dollars due to a smaller construction window and expedited timeline.
Maersch and Sanzenbacher say they’re thrilled to see a more efficient method already at work in the field.
“We know that a lot of things in the utility industry are done because that’s the way they’ve always been done. We knew that there were probably some opportunities to improve our projects in terms of finding better ways to do things,” said Maersch. “It seemed like the right thing to do to find another way.”